Photo: flickr/bradleygeeWhat's lurking in your college student's backpack? Could it be... death? Here, researchers gave college students a backpack containing 12% of their body weight (e.g., about 21 lbs for a 175-lb guy) and had them cross streets in a "virtual pedestrian environment." They found that "participants walked more slowly, left less safe time to spare after crossing the virtual street, and experienced more frequent hits or close calls with traffic when crossing while carrying the backpack." Perhaps this is just another argument for doing away with heavy (and expensive!) textbooks in favor of electronic versions?The influence of carrying a backpack on college student pedestrian safety. "University students walk frequently, and individuals ages 18-22 have among the highest rates of pedestrian injury among any age group in the United States. These injuries are caused by a wide range of individual, interpersonal, and environmental factors, but one factor that has not been previously considered carefully is the influence of wearing a heavy backpack on pedestrian safety. Backpacks are known to slow walking speed and disrupt perception of one's environment, so it is reasonable to question whether they might also influence safe pedestrian behavior. Ninety-six college students engaged in 20 street-crossings within a virtual pedestrian environment. Half the crossings were completed while bearing a backpack weighing 12% of their body weight; the other half were completed without any burdens. Results suggest that participants walked more slowly, left less safe time to spare after crossing the virtual street, and experienced more frequent hits or close calls with traffic when crossing while carrying the backpack. They also missed fewer safe opportunities to cross while carrying the backpack. Our tests of several demographic characteristics, pedestrian behaviors, and backpack use, as covariates suggest the finding holds across all subsamples included in our study. Implications for pedestrian safety and future research are discussed." Related content: NCBI ROFL: Why walking blindfolded in the Sahara desert might get you lost.NCBI ROFL: When it comes to walking backward, practice makes perfect.NCBI ROFL: The science of spontaneous synchronized stepping.